Il-Merill

blue rock thrush in English

Scientific Name: Monticola solitarius
Maltese Name: Merill

The Blue Rock Thrush, the National bird of the Maltese Islands, is a solitary birds which resides in cliffs, especially the ones near the coast. The male’s body is all blue with black wings and tail. The female is not colourful like the male is, as it is dark brown in colour. The Blue Rock Thrush feeds on worms, grasshoppers, lizards and skinks. The breeding season of this bird starts in March/April, when it is seen carrying twigs towards the cliffs, and ends in May/June. A female lays between 3 to 6 eggs and the pair may have 2 broods in the same season. In Malta this bird is widely known for its melodious song, echoing in the valleys. The male starts to sing from February and stops end of May. Telegraph poles, wires, trapping hides and rubble walls are amongst this birds favourite perches.

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/national-bird-has-never-been-recognised-officially.568603

Il-Merill – national bird…or is it? – Mai 2015

“The blue rock thrush was sought by stuffed bird collectors and nest robbing was a major problem as many young birds used to be taken from the nest to be hand reared and kept as songsters.

“Rearing young birds taken from nests was a deep-rooted practice. In 1843, ornithologist Antonio Schembri wrote that people used to place a piece of lava in their cages so the birds could clean their feet and beak.

“Similarly, in the 1870s, Andrew Leith Adams wrote that young blue rock thrushes were avidly sought as cage birds and fetched high prices. Among other interesting details he noted that a red cloth and cowrie shell were suspended in its cage to keep the evil eye at bay,” Dr Fenech said.

Songs and poems were dedicated to Malta’s ‘national bird’, Il-Merill, which also featured on old currency, but new research indicates it got its title by popular mandate and there is nothing official declaring it so.

The same can be said for the ‘national plant’, Widnet il-Baħar, (the sea’s ear) or Maltese rock-centaury.

“The only official recognition was a first day cover with stamps showing these two species on September 18, 1971. Otherwise, there was never a legal notice or a proclamation in The Malta Government Gazette declaring the Maltese national bird and plant,” ornithologist Natalino Fenech said.

The stamps were issued on the recommendation of the Plant a Tree Committee, set up by the Ministry of Agriculture, in July 1970. The Natural History Society of Malta, set up by Guido Lanfranco, had been lobbying for Widnet il-Baħar to become the national plant.

The plant was first described by Maltese naturalist Stefano Zerafa in 1827 and was adopted as the symbol of the Natural History Society of Malta since its inception in the 1960s.

The bird, blue rock thrush in English, on the other hand, was chosen as the national bird by the International Council for Bird Preservation Malta, which had representatives of the Natural History Society, the Malta Ornithological Society and the Malta Geographical Society.

In 1964, it became the emblem of the Malta Ornithological Society but it was ditched in 1995, the MOS became Birdlife Malta and the logo became a tern, which is part of the corporate logo of Birdlife International.

The Natural History Society of Malta, which evolved into Nature Trust, no longer had the ‘national plant’ as its emblem either, Dr Fenech pointed out.

The blue rock thrush was sought by stuffed bird collectors

He argued it made sense that these, and other species, be elevated to national status because it gave them added protection as people were more likely to look after them because they were “national”.

“The blue rock thrush was sought by stuffed bird collectors and nest robbing was a major problem as many young birds used to be taken from the nest to be hand reared and kept as songsters.

“Rearing young birds taken from nests was a deep-rooted practice. In 1843, ornithologist Antonio Schembri wrote that people used to place a piece of lava in their cages so the birds could clean their feet and beak.

“Similarly, in the 1870s, Andrew Leith Adams wrote that young blue rock thrushes were avidly sought as cage birds and fetched high prices. Among other interesting details he noted that a red cloth and cowrie shell were suspended in its cage to keep the evil eye at bay,” Dr Fenech said.

The bird featured in a number of poems and on a Lm20 gold coin issued by the Central Bank of Malta in 1972 and on the Lm1 coin in 1986.

“Though, officially, the blue rock thrush had been protected since January 1911, putting it on a coin gave it status and it gained more protection,” Dr Fenech said.

“Former Times of Malta cartoonist Maurice Tanti Burlò had depicted a bleeding blue rock thrush as one of the options when a call for suggestions was made to see what image should be on the Maltese euro. It would not be a bad idea if our Merill featured on a euro commemorative coin. Finland has its national bird, the whooper swan, on its euro coin and it featured again on a commemorative two euro coin in 2011,” Dr Fenech said.

However, since it had never been gazetted, there is nothing official giving the bird, or the plan, national status, he noted.

“I think it’s high time that the national bird and national plant will be made national through a proper proclamation. The sandarac gum tree, (siġra tal-għargħar) and the Pharaoh hound (kelb tal-fenek) are also considered as national by a degree of public perception, which is fine as a wide consensus is a good thing, but someone needs to make them official, preferably following a form of consultation process,” Dr Fenech said.

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http://www.birdinginmalta.com/species_bluerockthrush.htm

Blue Rock Thrush

Scientific Name: Monticola solitarius
Maltese Name: Merill
Family: Thrushes (Turdidae)
Occurence: Frequent Resident
Breeds in Malta: Yes
Breeding Frequency: Frequent

Overview:
The Blue Rock Thrush, the National bird of the Maltese Islands, is a solitary birds which resides in cliffs, especially the ones near the coast. The male’s body is all blue with black wings and tail. The female is not colourful like the male is, as it is dark brown in colour. The Blue Rock Thrush feeds on worms, grasshoppers, lizards and skinks. The breeding season of this bird starts in March/April, when it is seen carrying twigs towards the cliffs, and ends in May/June. A female lays between 3 to 6 eggs and the pair may have 2 broods in the same season. In Malta this bird is widely known for its melodious song, echoing in the valleys. The male starts to sing from February and stops end of May. Telegraph poles, wires, trapping hides and rubble walls are amongst this birds favourite perches.

Status and Distribution:
The Blue Rock Thrush population in Malta is quite a strong one, with it being present along all the cliffs of western and northern coasts of mainland Malta. It is not usually recorded on the eastern coast of mainland Malta due to the lack of cliffs. It is also found breeding along the coasts of Gozo and Comino.

When to See:
All year round

Where to See:
Mainly near sea cliffs but may be also present in steep inland valleys or near buildings in ruins. A very good place to see the Blue Rock Thrush is the Majjistral Natural Park.